The Independence Hall of Korea

Cheonan is home to a Korean history museum called the Independence Hall of Korea. It’s the largest exhibition facility in South Korea, with seven exhibition halls. Several impressive monuments are scattered about the outdoor areas, too.

During Chuseok, some friends and I spent an entire day there. We took a bus to get there, so our journey began near the parking lot. It didn’t take long for us to see where we needed to go first; the Monument to the Nation is pretty hard to miss.

Next up was the Grand Hall of the Nation, located at the end of the main pathway.

Being American, I felt some major Lincoln Memorial vibes as I entered the space. A wise friend of mine also pointed out that this statue shared some characteristics with the one we saw in New Orleans earlier this year (called the Monument to the Immigrants):

These comparisons aside, the Grand Hall of the Nation is an impressive building in its own right. And undoubtedly Korean.

The seven exhibition halls are located just behind the Grand Hall of the Nation. Their focus is on the independence movements during the Japanese Colonial period.

…Needless to say, it was all impressive. And informative. As all good museums tend to be.

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A large display in one of the exhibitions

After walking through the exhibitions for (literally) hours, we finished up the day by heading back outside to check out the Patriots Memorial and the Reunification Monument. Both areas involved walking up SO MANY STAIRS, but the climb turned out to be completely worth the endeavor.

It was a great day. If you ever find yourself in South Korea, I highly recommend visiting this place.

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

Cheonan World Dance Festival

So the Cheonan World Dance Festival was pretty lit.

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The main stage

Cheonan hosts this dance festival every year, which includes a week’s worth of street parades and dance performances. The international folk dance competition takes place at Three-Way Intersection Park on the last day of the festival.

I work at a hagwon and my work hours are strange, so I missed the events during the work week. But I spent my whole Sunday (Sept. 17th) at the park.

Three-Way Intersection Park is HUGE. Tons of people were there, yet the festival never felt overly crowded. I spent the whole day walking around with a friend of mine and we both kept stumbling upon new things to see.

The modern and traditional performances bumped elbows at this park. A man dressed as a beggar (a traditional show in Korea) was using audience participation to make everyone laugh. Just a short walk away, a hip hop group was urging a huge crowd of people to JUMP JUMP JUMP.

Eventually, after hours of exploring, we made our way back to the main stage. There was a Korean high school dance competition during the day, followed by the international dance competition later in the evening. Every group was spectacular in their own right.

The awards ceremony was incredible, too. Brazil and Russia both won the grand prize. Russia essentially smiled, bowed politely…and left almost immediately. Brazil started cheering, singing, and jumping around…and were the last group to leave the stage.

Classic.

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For the awards ceremony, each country was allowed to have ten dancers up on stage

After the fireworks show, anyone was allowed to come up and walk around on the stage, talk to the dancers, etc.

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Hello, it’s me

All in all, a great night.

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Brazilian dancers posing for photos. Look at that Korean child’s expression (middle).

Thanks for reading,

Emme

Cheonan: Things I’ve Noticed

I’ve lately been thinking back to how I was at the start of this process, when I was still in the USA. I’d spend hours googling things about Korea, looking at everything from transportation routes to what type of chopsticks they use. I read blog posts from expats about jimjilbangs and where to get your hair cut. I put a coat in my suitcase, took it out, put it in, took it out again. I wondered far too long about what pair of shoes to bring and if I should throw a jar of peanut butter in my bag or not.

A bit extreme, but hey, I’m a planner. I like to prepare myself for things.

So, for all you fellow planners out there, here’s a blog post about Korean things I’ve noticed…in no particular order:

 

You don’t eat rice with chopsticks. Use a spoon.

“Juseyo” is “please give me.” (Jew-say-yo) As in, “coffee/kopi juseyo.”

Coffee culture is HUGE here. You can’t walk more than two steps without seeing a coffee shop. And convenience shops have these amazing to-go coffees for only 1,000 won.

Couple/group culture is also a big thing here, which makes it tricky to go out to eat by yourself. (I’ve heard that Japan has single-person food stalls at restaurants…that’s not a thing in Korea.) Food portions are big because they’re meant to be shared.

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A popular coffee spot here — note the name!

Another note on couple culture: Korean couples will actually coordinate their outfits. This morning I walked past two Koreans who were both wearing white tops, jeans, and red Converse. They were lookin’ pretty fly.

Lots of businesses are stacked on top of each other, so don’t forget to look up once in a while. (It makes sense, considering that it’s a small country that just keeps expanding and building and growing…) And look down, too! There are many underground bars, usually located down a flight of nondescript stairs…

So far there’s only been one day with noticeable smog. The air was noticeably thicker; everything just looked dingy and grey. I still didn’t wear a breathing mask (although I do own one) and felt fine.

T-Money cards (for the subway and buses) can be refilled at most convenience stores. Also, swipe your card on the scanner as you leave the bus, otherwise you’ll get charged more money because the system doesn’t know where you got off the bus.

Koreans use metal chopsticks at restaurants. They’ve slipped out of my grip an embarrassing number of times already.

Ladies, I haven’t seen many bare shoulders or cleavage here. Koreans don’t mind showin’ some leg, though — there are a lot of women walking around in short skirts.

Bathrooms are an adventure in Korea. Before you leave home, make sure you’ve got toilet paper, soap, and a small towel (or wet wipes) in your bag. It’s rare for a bathroom to have all three of those things, or even just one of those things!

Koreans do not use dryers, so fabric softener is the way to go. That way when you hang up your clothes to dry, they don’t end up all crunchy and gross.

Ladies, you were right: it’s hard to find pads/tampons. I’ve only seen some SUPER tiny, frilly pads so far. I’m so glad I heeded everyone’s advice and brought my own!

I’ve also only seen deodorant in one store and it was — you guessed it — very tiny and expensive. Same goes for sunscreen.

Cereal is pricey and a bit difficult to find. I have found peanut butter here, but I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t remark on its quality.

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

Korean Meals: Sharing is Caring

At a Korean meal, sharing is caring. Everything is eaten with metal chopsticks or a spoon, with everyone taking turns to reach for things. And when someone’s cup has run dry, someone else refills it for them.

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Grilled pork belly + aaaaaaall of the side dishes

Food portions are large, so it’s hard to go out to eat by yourself here in Korea. Example: in the picture above, all of that food was shared between five people! (And we even ordered a second round of the main course!)

One of my favorite meals so far has been grilled pork belly. The waiter brings the strips of pork to you and you cook it right at your table. (Most Korean tables come with a built-in grill, as seen in these pictures.) Then, using a pair of scissors, you cut up the meat so everyone can reach for the pieces with their chopsticks. Wrap it all up in a leaf (lettuce or mint — I prefer mint) with some bean sprouts, kimchi, onions…and bon appétit.

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A few of the sides that are included in the meal

Korean chicken is amazing, too. I bit into a piece of garlic chicken the other day and made a sound that wouldn’t be appropriate in most social settings.

And what’s dinner without dessert afterwards? Shaved ice shops are everywhere, selling — you guessed it — small mountains of shaved ice paired with a plethora of toppings (oreos, cheesecake bites, red beans, various fruit, etc.) I’ve never seen a Korean eating one of these delicious monstrosities by themselves because it’s yet another food that’s meant to be shared.

Even the walnut cookies — which are famous in Cheonan — aren’t sold individually; they’re sold by the box instead! My coworker brought a 25-pack of them to work the other day. It took all of my willpower to resist eating them all in one sitting.

….Although, there’s nothing stopping me from buying a box and taking it home for myself. Maybe these cookies could turn out to be the one food that can be eaten solo.

Away from prying eyes, that is. Nobody has to know. Please don’t tell my coworkers.

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

 

Pharaoh’s Donuts

If you ever visit St. Louis, you MUST GO to Pharaoh’s Donuts. It’s a little hard to find because its front door is completely nondescript (like most fabulous places tend to have). Follow the smell of baked goods until you see the signs!

I don’t have a picture of the actual donuts because I inhaled them too quickly! I don’t even remember chewing.

My dad and I even went back and got donuts to take with us for the drive back to Nebraska. Later on, when we were about an hour out of St. Louis, and all of the donuts were gone…we both had a moment where we considered turning back JUST TO GET MORE DONUTS.

Pharaoh’s Donuts. Go there. Experience the true joy that only baked goods can bring.

And thanks for reading,

Emme

Greetings from Cheonan

Greetings from Cheonan!

It’s been an incredible week so far. Between work, spending time with coworkers/friends, and simply getting my bearings in this brand-new place, there’s little time left to write or even just breathe. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now that the jet lag’s worn off, I’ve been getting up every morning before work to walk around outside, taking in everything I can.

I’m usually alone on these walks. I’ve learned that many businesses don’t open their doors until 10 a.m. (and I’m assuming that’s because potential customers are either 1) at work or 2) still asleep). Many Koreans work later into the evening and then still go out afterwards to eat/drink…usually into the wee hours of the next morning.

For example, I went out to eat with coworkers around 11 p.m. We were out and about until almost 4 a.m.

…What a wild ride.

Thanks for reading,

Emme

A New Adventure in Cheonan, South Korea

Hello everyone,

On the 24th of August, I got on a plane bound for Seoul, South Korea. I’ll be spending this next year teaching ESL at a private school in Cheonan.

This is the first time I’ve lived outside of my home country. It’s one of the few times I’ve traveled to a place where English is not the primary language. And this’ll be one of the only times I’ve traveled solo.

It’s gonna be an adventure.

 

안녕히계세요 미국

안녕하세요 한국

Get ready for future posts about teaching ESL, eating Korean food, life around Cheonan, and the trials and tribulations of learning the Korean language*.

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

*I exaggerate, actually. I’ve been studying it for only a couple of months now, and I agree with my tutor that it’s an easier language to learn than English. Probably because it isn’t the Frankenstein’s Monster equivalent of Romance languages!

 

Golden Circle, Pt. 3

Gullfoss, the last major stop on the Golden Circle, is only a ten-minute drive away from Geysir.

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For scale: take note of the people on that path to the left!

The parking lot is on a plateau that overlooks the waterfall. To get on the “ground level,” in a sense, we went down several flights of stairs and then walked on a looooooong path that hugs the base of the cliff.

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Following the path (left)

Eventually we made it to the piece of land that stretches out into the falls. I spent a good chunk of my time just sitting on a rock, listening to the water thundering down into the depths.

The sun came out that day, too, which led to this happening:

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A rainbow!

Not bad, eh?

Thanks for reading,

Emme

Golden Circle, Pt. 2

One hour later, we pulled up to the Geysir geothermal area. We could see the steam as we walked across the road to the entrance, our feet crunching in the dark gravel.

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Hello, hot springs!

Thanks to the heat from the hot springs, I started feeling toasty enough to unzip my jacket. And the air smelled purely of sulfur; I couldn’t stop thinking of omelets!

This area’s namesake, Geysir, actually doesn’t erupt very often, but its neighbor, Strokkur, goes off every ten minutes or so. Ted and I made our way to it, carefully following the path that wove between the bubbling pools.

When we arrived, Strokkur was bubbling cheerfully. We chose the one spot that was free of other tourists and stood there, congratulating ourselves on our front-row seats.

Then it erupted. The water shot up, up, up…giving me just enough time to realize what was about to happen. Propelled by some inner instinct, I turned on my heel and tried to run to safety; Ted planted his feet and took more pictures as the water came down, down down…

Our chosen viewing spot hadn’t been claimed by other tourists for a reason: it was the splash zone! We were soaked afterwards.

Talk about having egg on one’s face!

 

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

Golden Circle, Pt. 1

The Golden Circle is a great route if you only have a day to explore Iceland properly. It covers three of Iceland’s most stunning sights: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss.

It’s easy to navigate, too; if you type those three locations into Google, you get a triangular route that uses major roads the whole time. (There are also guided tours available for the Golden Circle, but we opted to go it alone so we wouldn’t feel rushed.)

When we pulled up to Þingvellir’s main entrance, it was already drizzling, with heavy cloud cover. Nice and chilly. I was in heaven.

Thanks to the region’s geology, the park’s entrance is marked by two towering walls of rock.

The rock wall to the left just keeps going and going and going…while the wall on the right eventually breaks up a bit, revealing the rest of the valley.

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Nerd that I am, I kept thinking of Skyrim — doesn’t this look like the area around Whiterun?

As we were short on time, we didn’t hike down into the valley. Instead we kept making our way along the path.

And then, finally, we came across a trail that led upward, through an opening in the rock wall. The sound of roaring water got louder and louder as we made our way around the corner.

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Oh, hello there

With only four other people sharing the area with us, it was easy to quietly take in the sight.

Thanks for the great morning, Þingvellir.

And thank you for reading,

Emme